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PR19 Debate Over the Origins of Thermidor in the Russian 40-44 Feedback

PR19 Debate Over the Origins of Thermidor in the Russian 40-44 Feedback

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Published by Jerry J Monaco

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Published by: Jerry J Monaco on May 26, 2012
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Dear comradesIn recent editions of the journalthere has been a detailed discussionof events in the post 1917 Bolshevik Party, particularly focussing on the10th Congress in 1921 and the banning of factions.My purpose here, is not to returnto the question of the facts of thematter, nor whether Lenin wasright or wrong, but, instead,respond to the accompanyingpolitical narrative that was putforward in the original piece by Mark Hoskisson that has not beencommented on in any detail so far.Stuart King has responded inPR18 to the specics of Mark’sarguments about the TenthCongress, ban on factions etc. At the heart of Mark’s thesis ishis conclusion that the sectariandisarray that pervades the“antagonistic particles” thatcomprise today’s Trotskyist left,derives from their wrong dating of the Russian counter-revolution i.e.1924 not 1921. He argues that thefailure to identify the banning of factions as the start of Thermidor ispart of Trotskyism’s DNA and is infact the explanation for the bureaucratised, autocratic behaviour of the tiny sects thatexist today. As Mark poses it in hisarticle:“Surely the debris of the Trotskyist movement today as wellas its history of splits, manoeuvresand sharp practices, should promptus to at least ask the question: isthere a connection between thestate it is in today and the lessons ithas drawn regarding the timingand character of the counter-revolution in Russia?”For Mark the answer is anunequivocal yes. The bureaucraticsects today can be understood asowing their existence and theirautocratic practices to a wronganalysis of the counter-revolution.Mark describes how the Trotskyists in the 1930s becameincreasingly marginalised and,after 1940, fell into competing sectsand personality cults. While herecognises that “there wereconjunctural and objective reasonsthat prevented the [FourthInternational (FI)] becoming such a(revolutionary) leadership duringand immediately after the war” weare never told how much weight togive these considerable otherfactors. Nor is any reference madeto the wrong economic analysis,common to both wings of the FI, which failed to explain the post war boom in capitalism. This is because Mark places mostemphasis on “the practices it(Trotskyism) inherited
itmoved into opposition to the bureaucracy”, i.e. the fact that ittraced its roots to a bureaucraticcounter-revolution in 1921 that both Trotsky and Lenin were partof. What Mark’s thesis does is tooverstate the signicance of hisown analysis and understate thesignicance of other vital politicalfactors. In particular, he hasunlocked the secret of the centristdegeneration of Trotskyism. But hisargument doesn’t stack up.Does anyone, for example, think that opposition to factions andtendencies and support of a bureaucratic internal regime has been the United Secretariat of theFourth International’s (USFI) centralproblem? No, in many ways thepolitical incoherence represented by the plethora of factions andtendencies within it, hascontributed to the USFI’s problems,not helped to solve them. The political direction of Mark’sthesis becomes clearer when hegoes on to criticise Trotsky’spolitical practice in the 1930s. While acknowledging that Trotsky  was “driven to despair by themanoeuvres and manipulations of his movement” he was nonetheless“fatally awed in organisationalmatters.”Bit harsh, considering he led theRed Army! However the next part of the argument is very revealing.Mark argues that Trotsky didn’tplace enough weight “on thedifcult task of transforming tiny,marginalised and inexperiencedcircles of cadre into substantialrevolutionary parties.” Too much was left to objective factors. Was it? What about his developments of revolutionary theory, including onfascism and the united front,permanent revolution and anti-imperialism and his analysis of thenature of the USSR?Mark then goes on to argue thathis “experiments in party buildingin his movement (e.g. entryism andexitism in relation to massreformist parties) led to it havingarguably less inuence than whenit formed the FourthInternational…”So, what was wrong with these“experiments”? Were they opportunist? We aren’t told. In fact, Trotsky was trying to deal with thecontinuing hold of reformism overthe working class, especially in thecontext of some of the bourgeoisieadopting fascism to solve the crisis,and the ultra-left politics of theStalinist Third International inGermany. He was developingtactics, (neither new, norexperiments in the Marxisttradition) specically designed to
revolutionaries in retreat
“The accusations against Lenin and Trotsky don’t stack up
 Trotsky was trying to deal with thecontinuing hold of reformism over the working class, especially in the context of some of the bourgeoisie adopting fascism
Winter 2011 / page 41
avoid isolation from the masses. This relentless desire to avoidisolation also led Lenin, particularly in Left Wing Communism in 1920,to devote serious attention todefeating ultra-left tendenciesinside, and he emphasised inside,the movement. Even in the midst of the everyday demands of the post-revolutionary situation in Russia,he found time to explain themistaken trajectories of Pankhurstand Gallagher in Britain,particularly in relation to theLabour Party and tactics towards it.He was anxious, in contrast to theimage of a centralising, top down,controlling autocrat portrayed inMark’s analysis of Lenin at thistime, to ensure that communists,especially in Europe, did not standseparate from the struggles of the working class, led as they usually  were by reformists – but insteadtake part in those ghts up to andincluding being part of theirpolitical organisations.Indeed today, one can only  wonder what Lenin would havemade of the ridiculous, second timefarce nature of today’s left sectarianpolitics, plus opportunistprogramme, that was the hallmark of the failed electoral front TradeUnionist Socialist Coalition (TUSC)in the 2010 election.Does anyone think that thishopeless project, led as it was by theSocialist Party with back up from Worker’s Power and others wasreally due to their embracing of the Trotskyist analysis of the Russiancounter-revolution. No it predatesthat, it’s the same old sectarianismand ultra leftism that has long beenpart of the British revolutionary tradition.
Andy Smih, PR Shfld
regime could have saved it fromdegeneration in an isolated Russia;given the circumstances that therevolution found itself in, the victory of a Stalinist-type bureaucracy was inevitable. We may disagree about which mistakes may have speeded up and which far-sighted correct policies may haveslowed down this inevitableoutcome; more or less “workers’democracy” for instance, but thesedid not cause the degeneration, very  visible it is true even by 1921.Nor could they have avoided it. That they could have and did not isthe lie at the heart of ComradeHoskisson’s article. Those objectivecircumstances, subjectively produced, did not nally imposetheir logic until Stalin’s victory of socialism in a single country in1924 against the heroic, yes, heroicopposition of Lenin and Trotsky, who understood it best. Theprogress of the Russian Revolution was absolutely dependent on theprogress of the world revolution. The banning of factions in 1921did not signal the counter-revolutionary Thermidor nor didthe suppression of the Kronstadtrevolt. In Trotsky’s,
 Hue and Cry Over  Kronstadt 
, he says:“How can the Kronstadt uprisingcause such heartburn to Anarchists,Mensheviks, and ‘liberal’ counter-revolutionists, all at the same time? The answer is simple: all thesegroupings are interested incompromising the only genuinely revolutionary current, which hasnever repudiated its banner, has notcompromised with its enemies, andalone represents the future . . .“Most puerile of all is theargument that there was nouprising, that the sailors had madeno threats, that they ‘only’ seizedthe fortress and the battleships...
debating thermidor
 A capitulation to democratism
In issue No 17 of 
 Permanent  Revolution
Mark Hoskissonrepudiated Trotskyism andLeninism and indicated hispreference for the politics foundaround that loose anti-Leninistgrouping The Commune. In PR 18Stuart King replied, and Bill Jefferies weighed in with a defenceof the Kronstadt uprising, basically charging Lenin and Trotsky withdestroying the revolution then andthere. Between the two issues of themagazine there appeared on LiamMac Uaid’s Blog,
 It’s all Lenin’s fault 
, asummary by Liam which provoked590 comments. It all adds up to acapitulation to the neo-liberaloffensive against the world workingclass and Trotskyism. This piece will seek to prove that:1. Lenin did not lead to Stalin;Leninism (Bolshevism) andStalinism are antipodes, directirreconcilable opposites. As acorollary the taking of theKronstadt fortress in 1921 was anecessary and unavoidable defenceof the revolution.2. That the Leninist model of party building, properly understood, is the only possible onethat can lead successful proletarianrevolutions anywhere.3. That the three articles, by comrades Hoskisson, Jefferies andKing betray the origins of thesecomrades in the state capitalistgroup, the Socialist Workers Party,from whose methodology they havenever properly broken.
Lenin did not leadto Stalin
 A revolutionary victory in the west was the only thing that couldhave regenerated the 1917revolution. No mistake-free political
 The three articles by comrades Hoskisson, Jefferies and King betray the origins of these comrades in the state capitalistgroup, the Socialist Workers Party 
page 42 /
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 The logic of the struggle would havegiven predominance in the fortressto the extremists, that is, to themost counter-revolutionary elements. The need for supplies would have made the fortressdirectly dependent upon theforeign bourgeoisie and theiragents, the White émigrés.”
 The above quote from Trotsky has been completely substantiated by the opening of the Sovietarchives. These refute comrade Jefferies’ assertions that the Whites(and anti-Semites) were not involvedin the uprising, and prove that the“third revolution” was a counter-revolution. In an article
Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counter-revolution
,the International CommunistLeague (ICL) sets out the case very  well:Another PRC member, ananarchist named Perepelkin, toldhis Cheka interrogator that he had been upset by Vilken’s prominencein the mutiny. According to ChekaPetrograd regional chairman N PKomarov, Perepelkin said:“And here I saw the formercommander of the Sevastopol,Baron Vilken, with whom I hadearlier sailed. And it is he who isnow acknowledged by the PRC to bethe representative of the delegationthat is offering us aid. I wasoutraged by this. I called togetherall the members of the PRC andsaid, so that’s the situation we’re in,that’s who we’re forced to talk to.Petrichenko and the others jumpedon me, saying, ‘When we don’t havefood or medicine — it’s all going torun out on March 21 — are we really supposed to surrender to theconquerors? There was no other way out,’ they said. I stoppedarguing and said I would accept theproposal. And on the second day wereceived 400 poods of food andcigarettes. Those who agreed tomutual friendship with the WhiteGuard baron yesterday shouted thatthey were for Soviet power.”
Lastly on Kronstadt comrade Jefferies relies heavily on the anti-communist Professor Israel Getzler.In his book Kronstadt 1917 - 1921:
The Fate of a Soviet Democracy
heclaims that the sailors manning thetwo battle ships in 1921 werelargely the same as in 1917. Theinternet is just full of anarchistsusing the exact quote from Wikipedia as pasted by comrade Jefferies. The ICL article gives thisthe lie also:“Getzler’s only proof for this isFebruary 1921 crew lists cited in S NSemanov’s “The Suppression of the1921 Anti-Soviet Kronstadt Mutiny”,originally published in V 
, 1971, No3). We examinedSemanov’s lists as well; they indicated when the sailors enlisted, but not
they had served in1917. The evidence indicates thatthe 1921 crews wereoverwhelmingly not veterans of Kronstadt 1917. For example, in hisunpublished
 Kronstadt, March 1921
, Yuri Shchetinov shows that thecrew of the Petropavlovsk wasreduced from nearly 1,400 to just200 by late 1918; the majority of thereplacements were not veteranKronstadters but conscripts—formercrewmen of navy, merchant marineand river vessels—who had quitafter the revolution rather thanserve voluntarily in the newly constituted Red Navy.”
 The Leninist model of party building 
 The nature of the internalpolitical regime of the Bolshevikssprang neither from the illegalconditions of Russia in the early twentieth century nor fromsupposed dictatorial tendencies inthe character of Lenin laterdeveloped by Stalin, but from theoppressed character of the workingclass itself which makes revolutionnecessary to achieve socialism. The working class must engagein the class struggle or thecapitalists will drive them down toperpetual poverty. They cannot wait for “democracy” andparliament, they must go on strike,deny “democracy” to the capitaliststo oppress them, and to scabs who want to go to work when the strikeis on, or they will lose all around. The miners of Cortonwood wereabsolutely right to post their picketseverywhere in 1984 without a ballot, because that was what theclass struggle demanded. Similarly they must develop from pickets to workers’ defence guards if they arefaced with serious police and fascistattacks. Again “democracy” issidelined. The internal regime of theBolsheviks and of all those thatseriously want to build arevolutionary party to overthrow capitalism must be based on thedemocratic centralism of Lenin, noton the bureaucratic centralism of Stalin nor on the “pluralist” modelof a “party of the whole class” of Karl Kautsky. Without revolutionary theory there can be norevolutionary party. All seriousrevolutionaries must ght for this within their party. This party must be based on theprinciple of democratic centralismcontained in Lenin’s 1906 article
 Freedom to Criticise and Unity of Action
:autonomy for local Partorganisations and of the universaland full rights to criticise by allmembers, so long as this does notdisturb the unity to achieve denedand imperative actions once decided.In PR 18 Comrade King signalshis preference for the Kautskyite,“pluralist” model in the following:“This approach, along with Trotsky’s overwhelming politicaldominance in terms of experienceand theoretical ability, undoubtedly accentuated many of theproblematic trends that ow fromsuch a ‘narrow’ party perspective –
 The opening of the Soviet archivesrefutes comrade Jefferies’ assertions thatthe Whites (and anti-Semites) were notinvolved in the uprising 

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